The Fair Rosamund

Rosamund image 


This piece is a tone poem based the story of Rosamund Clifford. Not a great deal is known about the woman who became known as "The Fair Rosamund". There definitely was a Rosamund Clifford who was born some time before 1150, the daughter of Walter de Clifford and his wife Margaret. She became a mistress of King Henry II, and is thought to have died around 1176 in a convent at Godstow near Oxford.

The opening of the piece creates a sense of mystery. The inscription on Rosamund's tomb "Hic jacet in tumba Rosamundi" - ("Here in the tomb lies the rose of the world..") provides the second motif of the opening section.

At Figure 2, King Henry II and his entourage approach Clifford Castle, Rosamund's childhood home. 

From Figure 3, the king's hunting activity is pictured musically, with the main theme drawn from the opening of the earlier ballad theme, transposed and in a 6/8 rhythm.


The slower central section of the piece from Figure 12 onwards is the simultaneous representation of two factors. Firstly, it is a love theme, set in the bower that Henry is said to have created in the grounds of his estate at Woodstock, a bower protected by a labyrinth to stop anyone else getting to Rosamund.

In some versions of the story, it all ends badly, and so from Figure 17 the music reflects this. Rhythms are more complex, the general atmosphere is threatening, and one fears for Rosamund. The tension rises as the section proceeds, towards the climax which occurs just before Figure 21. We don't know whether Rosamund was stabbed, poisoned or sent to Godstow to live out her time peacefully, so the mystery of all this leads to a reiteration of the opening material after which the music fades away to nothing......

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